Many scientists today see Alzheimer’s as a brain-specific form of diabetes.
Taking a blood test to see how your body deals with sugar should be a valuable indicator, not just of diabetes risk, but of future cognitive decline.
Trouble is, a blood sugar test doesn’t always represent what’s occurring in the brain. But now a new answer is on the horizon.
Researchers at Iowa State University believe they may have found a much better biological indicator than blood sugar for both diabetes and dementia. If their findings hold up, it’s big news. The marker they’ve identified is an enzyme called autotaxin, found in the fluid surrounding the brain.
Raised Levels Massively Increase Alzheimer’s Risk
Autotaxin is normally produced in response to some kind of inflammation.
If this is due to injury, levels fall when tissues are repaired. But in uncontrolled inflammation, high autotaxin levels can lead to pathological conditions like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Persistently high levels have also been linked to cancer.
For their study, the Iowa researchers enrolled 287 people aged 56 to 89. Of these, 66 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 135 had mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and 86 were cognitively healthy.
Autotaxin levels were measured in their spinal fluid; brain imaging scans were conducted to measure blood sugar (energy metabolism) and brain volume, and they also carried out reasoning, multitasking and memory tests.
The scientists found that autotaxin levels were significantly higher in both MCI and Alzheimer’s.
Every one-point increase raised the risk of MCI by 3½ times and Alzheimer’s by fivefold. It also quadrupled the risk for diabetes.
Levels of autotaxin also predicted poorer brain energy metabolism in key areas, less brain volume, and worse cognition and memory function in those with Alzheimer’s.
I would call the findings stunning confirmation that dementia really is Type 3 diabetes.
Twice as Efficient as Any Other Biomarker
Lead researcher Auriel Willette, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, said that the enzyme seemed to be twice as efficient as other biomarkers at predicting the kind of changes seen in Alzheimer’s.
He believes it could turn out to be the best biological detector of the disease, even before people develop symptoms.
“Autotaxin is related to less real estate in the brain. And smaller brain regions in Alzheimer’s mean they are less able to carry out their functions.
“It’s the same with blood sugar. If the brain is using less blood sugar, neurons have less fuel and start making mistakes and in general do not process information quickly.
“We’ve been looking for metabolic biomarkers which are closer to the brain. We’re also looking for markers that reliably scale up with the disease and have consistently higher levels across the Alzheimer’s spectrum. This is as directly inside of the brain as we can get without taking a tissue biopsy.”
How to Lower Your Autotaxin Levels
This study is yet another reminder of the link between persistent low grade inflammation and chronic disease.
People with higher autotaxin levels are more likely to have higher triglycerides (blood fats), be obese, have insulin resistance and go on to suffer with diabetes and dementia.
The simplest way to lower excessive autotaxin levels is to lose excess weight, eat a more nutritious diet, take nutritional and herbal supplements and engage in regular physical exercise.
It’s advice you’ve heard many times before, but it really makes a difference.